Friday, May 22, 2009

One Ricks Makes a Wrong

Thomas E. Ricks, erstwhile journalist and author of The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008, has become the embodiment of the warmongery’s moral and intellectual duplicity.

Ricks’s most recent 15 minutes of fame involved an appearance at a Firedoglake book forum. In reply to a commenter who asked if “more deaths in Iraq are worth it,” Ricks said, “I think staying in Iraq is immoral. But I think that leaving Iraq is even more immoral.” In a nutshell, Ricks framed the core fallacy in the long war philosophy: that two wrongs can make a right. This theme dominates Rick’s work these days. The Gamble and the media blitz that accompanied its debut were dazzling examples of what Voltaire was talking about when he said, "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."

Ricks continues to exalt General David Petraeus, who he has known since Petraeus was a colonel or a light colonel (Ricks says he can’t remember which). Ricks became King David’s chief legend maker when the Iraq surge began in January 2007. In a radio interview that month on WNYC in New York, Ricks described Petraeus as a “fascinating character” and “just about the best general in the Army.” He specifically cited Petraeus’s “very successful first tour” as commander in Mosul after the fall of Baghdad, but made little mention that the general tamed the city by handing out guns and bribes, and that months after Petraeus left Mosul the chief of police defected and the place went up for grabs again. (Mosul remains a major trouble spot to this day, and Petraeus is still arming and bribing militants.)

By August 2007 Ricks was waxing giddy over Petraeus’s persona. On NPR he called the general “a force of nature,” and gushed as he described the sight of Petraeus engaging in pushup contests with privates less than half his age. A veteran Pentagon reporter like Ricks should have seen the pushup prank for the used chicken feed it was, but by then Ricks was already sleeping in the general’s field cot.

Freud would have a field day with some of Ricks’s latest disclosures. In The Gamble, Ricks flat out admits that Petraeus deceived Congress (and betrayed the country) by telling the House Foreign Affairs committee he aimed to create “conditions that would allow our soldiers to disengage." Petraeus’s plan all along, Ricks confesses, was “not to bring the war to a close, but simply to show enough genuine progress that the American people would be willing to stick with it even longer.” How does Ricks view this Promethean abuse of power and trust? “"The surge was the right step to take,” He says. It was “the least wrong move in a misconceived war.”

The “least wrong move” mantra might carry Petraeus’s water if Ricks backed it up with a sound argument, but his justifications are a logic lizard that consumes itself from the tail forward. Ricks warns that if we leave Iraq, things will almost certainly go back to the way they were under Saddam Hussein. But he also asserts that things are worse in Iraq then than they were before we invaded because “Saddam was kind of an aging, toothless tiger” and “wasn‘t a threat to anybody.” So we have to stay to keep things from getting better.

Ricks also echoes the ghost story that if we leave Iraq, a regional war is a “live possibility.” None of the countries in that region are capable of projecting conventional force much beyond their own borders, and the only nation in that part of the world capable of nuking anyone else is Israel. Terrorists organizations are already in place and we’ve seen what they can do, which is nothing compared to the havoc we have wrought with our preemptive delusions.

Ricks judges that it was “quite noble” of surge proponents like Ambassador Ray Crocker who “allegedly opposed the initial invasion of Iraq” to “step into something they thought was a mistake.” As if deliberately perpetuating a mistake could ever be a noble thing.

Ricks has evolved into such an incorrigible bull feather merchant he’s taken to lashing out at anyone who presents a viewpoint different from the one he and his masters are shilling. He decries refutations of his rhetoric as “personal” attacks, and harangues his critics with angry emails. At the Firedoglake forum, a guest asked Ricks to comment about criticisms of Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, our new commander in the Bananastans, made recently by my colleague Gareth Porter. Ricks replied, “If Gareth Porter is reporting it, then it’s probably wrong. ‘Nuff said?” (“’Nuff said” is one of those macho expressions guys like Ricks use when they want to sound like Ralph Peters.)

I am familiar enough with Porter’s methods to know he practices sound journalism. Ricks, on the other hand, has succumbed to the access poisoning that has plagues most of the mainstream Washington media. He spent decades courting inside sources. They have now become the movers and shakers of the American hegemony, and he is their court stenographer. The most blatant example of this was his “transformation” of General Ray Odierno from the raging ox whose incompetence was the main cause of the insurgency to the genius who “conceived and executed” the surge strategy “by himself in Baghdad.” The sources of this revelation were Odierno’s subordinates and mentors and Odierno himself.

In response to an piece criticizing Ricks and his colleagues at the Center for a New American Security, Ricks growled: “This is what happens when someone writes about an area about which they know absolutely freaking nothing.” What Thomas E. Ricks knows about national defense he learned from a flock of and tank thinkers and Pentagon desk rangers who don’t know their centers of gravity from their elbows. If Ricks limits himself to writing what he knows about, we’ll never hear from him again.

Let’s hope that happens real soon.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.


  1. Pushups, eh? A little erotic imagery going on there? Eeeeeewww.

    What about this McChrystal guy? Reading about his "attributes" makes my blood run cold. I've heard serving military personnel describe the special forces types as "psychopaths, but they're OUR psychopaths." What happens when the psychopaths start running the show?

  2. The psychopaths have been running the show, Fil. McChrystal Meth is just the latest one.


  3. Re Psychos in High places - Okay, Jeff, I think I'll panic now.
    I though you might appreciate this little piece about the ongoing Somali pirate saga which appeared on CBC news last night. There's a video link on the right side of the page (about 2 minutes) which captures the whole thing - unfortunately. Lots of alarms going off and people running - no, sorry, moving very swiftly - around the place.

    Dispatching a Sea King is an act of faith these days. The poor things are ancient. The mechanics who service them and keep them flying at all should be given medals. There were new helicopters ordered some time ago, but cancelled by the next government. Modifications to warships to allow them to land on deck are now useless, since the second set of new ones (still in production) don't fit the old specs. (Excuse me if I have my terminology wrong here. I'm a land lubber, I'm afraid.) The Sea Kings spend about one hour in the air for every ten hours in the shop.

    But this line from the news report was the winner:

    "The helicopter crew warned the suspected pirates by hanging a sign that read "stop" in Somali outside the chopper's cargo door next to the machine gun, Cmdr. Craig Baines said."

    I think I'll go away now and cry quietly somewhere.

    Have a good Memorial Day weekend. The best would be the one where there were no new military dead to remember. I can't even attend Remembrance Day gatherings on November 11th here because I turn into a blubbering wreck.

  4. The sign should have read "avast" in Somali, not "stop." ;-)

  5. Here's another one for the psychopath file - the latest bit of neocon
    , courtesy of loose screw Ralph Peters.

    Hard to believe he would say that out loud, but then he's also the guy who wrote, "The de facto role of the US armed forces will be to keep the world safe for our economy and open to our cultural assault. To those ends, we will do a fair amount of killing."

    Makes me so proud to be an American (or Israeli or whatever we are this week).

  6. JP,

    Thanks for the links and the inspiration to tweak a punch like (I changed Marcinko to Peters).


  7. Nice Stuff Cmdr. Huber:

    I guess that I see the real problem is the lack of coherent political policy in Washington. If the theatre operations are in fact an extension of the lack of policy at the political level, I guess than I am not too surprised by the shenanigans in-country.

    Again, thank you for your fine efforts

    Best Regards


  8. D,

    I though lack of coherent policy was bad enough while I was on active duty. It's gone off rail since then.


  9. Jeff,

    As always, great piece. Guys like Toguba and Shinseki are just not sexy enough I guess for Rick's taste. I read somewhere that amatures talk strategy, professionals talk logistics. It is always the strategy guys who tell everyone, no problem, I'll take care of everything, you just sit back and enjoy the ride that gets everyone excited. She can't compete with Voltaire but Rebecca West had it right when she said "Before a war, military science seems a real science, like astronomy; but after a war it seems more like astrology." That is, at least as practiced by our military. You are right, we need to remove every general and start again.


  10. Thanks for the great West quote, Andy.


  11. In order to propogate our neocon dream, we hustled full fledged felons and gang-bangers into the non-com population of the Army. Looks like they are matched by the felons at the top, eh? And Iraq continues to blaze!

    Was just reading Dahr Jamail's May 4th post headed by COMGAT OPERATIONS IN FALLUJAH. In combination with this post of yours, reminds one of how horribly corrupt and inept the whole concept of "showing them the light" or bringing Christianity and democracy to the great unwashed as among of the great hoaxes of history.

  12. Nat,

    Yes, it's gotten pretty awful. Exporting malignant values at gunpoint. Yeesh!


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